DESCRIPTION: "Green gravel, green gravel, Your (bank/grass) is so green; The fairest young damsel I ever have seen." Usually a short lyric of praise for a girl, then a report that the girl's love is dead
EARLIEST DATE: 1894 (Gomme); c.1835 (Opie-Game)
KEYWORDS: courting death river playparty
FOUND IN: Britain(England(North,West)) US(MW,NE,SE,So) Ireland Canada(Ont) New Zealand
REFERENCES (18 citations):
Broadwood/Maitland, pp. 26-27, "Green Gravel"; Broadwood/Maitland, p. 27, "Around the Green Gravel" (3 texts, 2 tunes)
Randolph 532, "Green Gravel" (2 short texts plus an excerpt, 1 tune)
Arnold, p. 129, "Green Gravel" (1 short text, 1 tune)
BrownSchinhanV, p. 510, "Green Gravel" (1 short text, 1 tune)
Morris, #130, "Green Gravel" (1 text, 1 tune)
SHenry H48b, p. 10, "Green Gravel" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hammond-Belfast, p. 10, "Green Gravel" (1 text, 1 tune)
Flanders/Brown, p. 188, "Green Gravel" (1 text)
Linscott, pp. 10-11, "Green Gravel" (1 text, 1 tune)
Opie-Game 54, "Green Gravel" (6 texts, 1 tune)
Newell, #15, "Green Gravel" (1 short text, 1 tune); #172, "Green Gravel" (1 text)
Welsch, pp. 289-290, "Green Gravel" (1 text, 1 tune)
Sutton-Smith-NZ, p. 26, "(Green gravels, green gravels)" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: A.F. Chamberlain, "Folk-Lore of Canadian Children" in The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. VIII, No. 30 (Jul 1895 (available online by JSTOR)), p. 254 "Green Gravel" (1 text) (Toronto, 1893)
James Orchard Halliwell, The Nursery Rhymes of England (London, 1842 ("Digitized by Google")), #277 p. 148, ("Around the green gravel the grass grows green") (1 text)
E. J. Ladbury, "Scraps of English Folklore, VIII. Worcestershire" in The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. XXXV, No. 3 (Sep 1924 (available online by JSTOR)), #7 p. 265 "Green Gravel" (1 text)
Bell/O Conchubhair, Traditional Songs of the North of Ireland, p. 79
ST R532 (Full)
Pratt family, "Green Gravels" (on Ritchie03)
cf. "A Trace-Boy on Ligoniel Hill" (tune)
NOTES [435 words]: Usually tells of a girl whose young man was slain (in the Napoleonic wars?), but in the Ozarks it's a playparty. The Beers Family sings a version in which the young man survives and returns to the girl -- but I wonder if they didn't write that.
Randolph was told that the song "reflects the Irish Catholic's hatred of the Masonic fraternity," but the only evidence I've seen for this is the mention of "free masons" (or corruptions thereof) in a few texts.
By the time Linscott picked it up, it had become a singing game -- and she reports that it wasn't very popular because "it called for little energy or imagination." She thought it described the process of laying out the dead, but there is no hint of that in her words.
Lowry Charles Wimberly, Folklore in the English and Scottish Ballads: Ghosts, Magic, Witches, Fairies, the Otherworld, 1928 (I use the 1965 Dover paperback edition), p. 243, suggests that the green gravel of the song is an abortifacient, pointing out that there is a version of "Tam Lin" [Child 39] in which Janet seeks to use "gravil green" to end her pregnancy. But I've yet to see a version of this song which seems to refer to pregnancy. But he also noted that green was a color associated with death and mourning, so perhaps the green gravel is a sign of the lover being dead.
The "Green gravel" refrain may perhaps be from a nursery rhyme from Halliwell (see Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #326, p.177):
Around the green gravel the grass grows green,
And all the pretty maids are plain to be seen;
Wash them with milk, and clothe them with silk,
And write their names with a pen and ink
Are all forms of this song really games and nursery rhymes? Even the "straight versions" that follow the description above may be from a game. Hammond-Belfast describes his version as "a funeral game, a bare and simple acceptance of death and change, a 'ceremony of innocence.'" Broadwood/Maitland says "this dismal little game ... is obviously a dramatic representation of mourning, and the suggested explanation of 'green gravel' as a corruption of 'green grave' ["green grave, O"?] is almost undoubtedly the right one."
Also collected and sung by David Hammond, "Green Gravel" (on David Hammond, "I Am the Wee Falorie Man: Folk Songs of Ireland," Tradition TCD1052 CD (1997) reissue of Tradition LP TLP 1028 (1959))
Sean O Boyle, notes to David Hammond, "I Am the Wee Falorie Man: Folk Songs of Ireland": "Irishmen like to think that the mysterious name ['Green Gravel'] is a folk rationalization of 'An Glas Gaibhlinn,' the name of a fabulous Irish cow whose milk never ran dry." - BS
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